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Divorce Without Court


No Court Divorce - Isn’t that an oxymoron? Divorce without litigious lawyers, battling with briefs drawn? Divorce without black-robed judges who beat their gavels mercilessly, decimating incomes, disrupting visitation, and destroying any hope of an intact family with each blow?

Who qualifies for a No Court Divorce?
The bad news is that not everyone qualifies for a No Court Divorce. The good news is that couples who are willing to put the emotional wholeness of their family before personal ill will, vendetta, or one-upmanship will qualify.

No court divorce is not marriage therapy or reconciliation counseling. It works on the assumption that the marriage is over and that the time has come to start building a restructured family. It is not appropriate for marriages in which one of the parties has hope that the marriage may continue. Divorce is usually a messy, tear-stained, highly emotional event for all parties involved. No court divorce cannot magically alleviate the pain, guilt and shame, or the blaming “if it wasn’t for you” way of thinking. No Court Divorce is no panacea. It is a process. Like all procedures, divorce without court follows a series of orderly steps to completion, “completion” being the key word. No Court Divorce can provide divorcing families with a psychological completion, or closure, that litigation can never match.

Can any attorney do a No Court Divorce?
Attorneys, like most other professionals, are required to continue their education long after law school, long after passing the bar exam. California Certified Family Law Specialists must take at least twelve hours of specialized professional training each year.

If you have a broken leg, it should be set by an orthopedic doctor. If you need a root canal, you want to see an endodontist. Likewise with the law. While a Personal Injury lawyer can handle a divorce, a Certified Family Law Specialist is preferred. As for No Court Divorce, it should only be undertaken by a Family Law Specialist trained in collaborative, or “cooperative,” law.

The Six Steps to No Court Divorce
1.  Assessment
2.  Intervention
3.  Issue Identification
4.  Process Selection
5.  Initiation of the Legal Procedure
6.  Closure

Assessment:
In the Assessment phase, the divorcing parties work with an attorney who is well-versed in collaborative law to identify the emotional profile of the family and determine effective interventions to assist the family as it is restructured. In this initial phase the parties meet and confer, discussing all options available with the express goal of designing a strategy that will contribute to the family’s reorganization, rather than destroying the family and dissolving all family ties.

Intervention:
Based on the Assessment, the parties, with assistance from their lawyers, determine the Interventions appropriate to their case. These interventions may include, but are not limited to, Separation Therapy, Parenting classes, Rage Management, Personal Coaching, and individual psychotherapy. It may be decided that the children will benefit by becoming part of a group for children of divorcing families.

All of this may sound expensive. Keep in mind that a family with an average income, one home, two cars, and perhaps a pension plan, may expect to spend upwards of $60,000 on a litigated divorce. Unfortunately, that figure is conservative.
A great deal more will be spent if child custody is an issue. A divorce without court will cost a small fraction of this, including the cost for all parties to be in therapy.

Consider also the personal benefit to those involved. It takes 300 hours of guided instruction to become a manicurist, 3,000 hours of supervised training (plus a master’s degree) to become a psychotherapist, and zero hours of schooling or training to marry or become a parent. Two of life’s most important events are left to chance and luck. That is pretty scary. Family restructuring should not be similarly treated. The truth is that divorcing parents do not become divorced from each other - they become divorced to each other, for as long as their children live. Why then should they not work together to achieve a healthy divorce, one in which mutual respect and concern for the best interests of the children prevail?

Issue Identification:
In the Issue Identification stage, the parties learn to apportion income streams, material assets and, with the assistance of a specialist, design an overall tax plan to facilitate a reorganization that contributes to the family rather than harms it. Insurance provisions can be addressed and a parenting plan designed with the help of a children’s coordinator.

Process Selection:
During Process Selection the parties examine the options of negotiation, mediation, arbitration, or case management. The best method of settling any dispute is with negotiation. If both parties have willingly and honestly participated in Issue Identification then negotiation is a good possibility. If, however, either party has a preponderance of power and the other feels even slightly coerced, negotiation cannot take place. Mediation is then preferred.

With No Court Divorce, mediation is accomplished with the assistance of a trained mediator and a collaborative lawyer to represent each party. Two lawyers and one mediator - sound expensive? Not compared to sitting in a backlogged court for days, not-so-patiently awaiting an available courtroom and a busy judge, who will then take Your matter into His hands and decide for you. He decides, not you.

Meanwhile, your lawyer and opposing counsel each bill on an hourly basis. While these attorneys wait with the parties to the action, they are unable to work on any other case. They must be responsible to the court, on hand and available. Their time adds up, even with good intentions.

If matters cannot be settled through mediation, arbitration is available using an arbitrator or rent-a-judge.

The presiding judge of the Family Law Department of the Los Angeles County Superior Court has instituted a program through which a retired judge or family law attorney may be hired by your representing lawyers to hear your case. This is more cost effective than traditional litigation because it eliminates the expensive wait. However, it is also the least preferable option. It still means that You give Your power to decide Your matter to Someone Else. That Someone makes the decisions, not you.

Remember, the more you and your soon-to-be former spouse agree, the less costly your case. An important purpose of No Court Divorce is to avoid the debilitating financial and emotional expenses of litigation and to choose a healthier, more financially sensible alternative process for dispute resolution.

Initiation:
Initiation, the fifth step, is where typical courtroom divorces begin. That is when the parties decide it is time to file the Petition for Dissolution. Frequently, a joint petition is filed. This reinforces the collaborative nature of the dissolution, eliminates an “I’m up - you’re down,” mind set, and helps forestall adversarial tendencies. At this time temporary Orders, responses, and Case Management stipulations are filed, a Voluntary Settlement Conference may take place, and the parties participate in a joint resolution based on consensus.

Closure:
The process enters the final stage, Closure, or completion, when the judgment is prepared and entered. The final tax analysis is in order, insurance provisions are put in place, and, if desired, a ceremony may take place to mark the conclusion of the dissolution and reinforce the vision of the still viable, though restructured, family unit.

An insightful CPA based in Los Angeles with whom I work told me the advice he always gives his divorcing clients: “It is as important to have a good divorce as it is to have a good marriage. You may have to live longer with the divorce than you lived with the marriage.” Those who, best efforts aside, find themselves walking the path of dissolution would be wise to follow that advice. No Court Divorce provides healthier restructured families and stronger support for children, and may serve to mend and embellish co-parenting relationships for years to come.

To speak to a divorce attorney trained in collaborative law and No Court Divorce, call us toll free at (818) 348-6700 or email info@thelawcollaborative.com.